Birthday Flight!

Family of Flying

Oh the joy! I got to fly a helicopter for my Birthday :)) out of Camarillo Airport — not far from my native Malibu.

And a visit to the WWII Air Museum there prompted a memory I hadn’t thought of in years.

Is it possible? Could it be?

VariEze Aircraft, Camarillo

Outside the Museum hanger, parked on the tarmac, was a solitary white homebuilt aircraft. Perched there, awkward — looking sort of like a dolphin out of the sea.

Sharply pointed winglets.

Canard off the fuselage.

Pushed by a rear propeller.

A Burt Rutan VariEze experimental design.

VariEze Aircraft, Camarillo

Our tour guide described it as “Vintage.”

“In fact, it’s for sale,” he announced.

Is this one of the planes flown by Charlie, Joe and Mack, back in the late 80s? Over my Malibu home?


The memories flood my mind.

Suddenly I’m there again . . .

Here’s the memoir of these long-ago events, written in my Journal, a few years back.


Malibu Twilight

Charlie, Joe and Mack Malibu, 1980s

They used to fly over us

At the Yerba Buena house,

High up in the saddle of

Malibu’s Boney Ridge.


Three identical aircraft

Angular upswept wingtips,

Canard off the fuselage

Homebuilt VariEze crafts.


I would hear their engines’ familiar

Buzz and stop whatever I’d be doing

Race outside, drag out the kids,

Point and make a fuss . . .


Photo Credit: Wikipedia: By Stephen Kearney (Personal collection.)


I used to stand there, waving wildly,

Shouting out their newly assigned names —

“Hey Charlie! Joe! Mack!

How’s it going up there?”


“Beautiful day for flying!

What airport are you guys out of?

Camarillo? Oxnard? Santa Paula?

Where are you flying to today?”


My little kids thought it was great —

Certain that I knew them;

Happy to greet Mommy’s

Three ace flying friends.


Bellanca Beckons

Flashback — My Family Flying Roots

Suddenly I return to my flying roots —

No longer a new mom raising my daughters,

My horses, up a canyon in Malibu,

Strapped firmly to the earth.

Dad with an earlier plane.

Dad with an earlier plane.

Suddenly I’m there with my Dad —

I’m maybe twelve years old —

In the cockpit of his beloved

Beechcraft Bonanza . . .

V-Tail Beechcraft Bonanza — same style as Dad’s.

V-Tail Beechcraft Bonanza — same style as Dad’s.

My Dad, bigger than life —

Top Studio Musician,

Twentieth Century Fox

Orchestra by day —

My Dad (foreground, Saxophone) and my Uncle Lloyd (Trombone ) on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Bandstand at Disneyland.

My Dad (foreground, Saxophone) and my Uncle Lloyd (Trombone ) on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Bandstand at Disneyland.

Disneyland Bandleader by night.

(Hired by Walt Disney, himself.)

Commuting nightly in his own private plane —

While others sit stuck in traffic below.

That's Dad, Bill Elliott (Ulyate) next to Walt Disney, Uncle Lloyd, also in white coat, with Music Greats (Les Brown).

That’s Dad, Bill Elliott (Ulyate) next to Walt Disney, Uncle Lloyd, also in white coat, with Music Greats (Les Brown).

“My Dad works at Disneyland!!!

I’ve been to the Park dozens of times —

And we fly there in my Dad’s airplane . . . “

(No wonder the kids at school didn’t believe!)

Article about Dad commuting to Disneyland in his plane.

Article about Dad commuting to Disneyland in his plane.


Listen to Dad here – Entire Album, Date Night At Disneyland, The Elliott Brothers Orchestra, recorded at Disneyland, 1958


And Dad’s love of flying came from

Grandfather, 1918, U.S. Army Air Service.

I can still see the framed black and

White photos hanging in the hallway

Grandfather Conway Ulyate, U.S. Army Air Service, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Grandfather Conway Ulyate, U.S. Army Air Service, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

With Grandfather smiling proudly in a WWI-era biplane,

Wearing the very same leather flight helmet he left to me

(Along with his log books — fifty hours of meticulously

Documented flight: straight, level, spins, stalls . . . )

That's both Grandfather and Grandmother on a recruiting tour for the U.S. Army Air Service.

That’s both Grandfather and Grandmother on a recruiting tour for the U.S. Army Air Service.


Today, it’s just Dad and me, no older sisters or

Younger brother to share Dad’s love. We take off

From Oxnard, en route to Santa Monica —

Flying toward this same range of Malibu mountains.

Malibu Mountains, Zuma Beach and Point Dume.

Malibu Mountains, Zuma Beach and Point Dume.

I look down below at the magical shrunken

World that always happens flying with Dad —

A bird’s eye view that reveals little cars and houses,

Swimming pools and fences.


Roads and trails — straight and twisted.

Green cultivated fields, curving rows of orchards,

And tiny bushy trees like those along the miniature train tracks

At the Lionel Model Railroad store near Grandfather’s house.

Pilot Flying...

Then today, Dad hands me the controls and lets me fly.

“Hold it steady,” Dad instructs. Oh my gosh, I get to fly!

Looking out, it all seems different — I’m flying, the plane —

And doing a darn good job!


Suddenly, the plane begins to buffet. Shake.

Oh no, what have I done? Rattle! Shimmy! Skip!

Dad quietly flips the controls back to his side of the cockpit —

We’ve hit the mountain’s turbulent, unstable air.

Boney Ridge, Malibu

Dad chuckles and reassures me with that

Wonderful big laugh he always gives to Life —

Until his heart gave out, when I was sixteen,

And we buried him.


When Mom, in her shock, sold his saxophones

And his clarinets — sold his beloved Bonanza plane.

Sold the house, moved from Malibu —

And Dad and flight were lost . . .


Until I decided, a decade later, that

I could learn to fly, I would learn —

Like my Father and Grandfather

Before me — Palomar Airport.

Here I am, third generation pilot, with a Piper Tomahawk. (My Mom shot this pic.)

Here I am, third generation pilot, with a Piper Tomahawk. (My Mom shot this pic.)

I worked hard. Got my fixed-wing license in just three months.

Moved to San Luis Obispo — and for the next two years, rented planes and

Flew nearly 300 California hours in Cessnas, Warriors, Tomahawks,

From San Luis, to Van Nuys, to San Diego . . .

Landing Aircraft

Soaring like an Eagle — like a California Condor —

Looking down on emerald ocean inlets over Laguna,

Grassy farmlands with cattle tracks leading to

Water troughs in the Central Valley —

Snow on top of the Grapevine

Sugar-coated mountains over the Grapevine,

Sprinkled with a fresh coating of snow.

Talking to the tower, checking my altimeter,

Flying my craft with precision and pride, like all pilots . . .

Ready to Roll

Joining the ranks of those before — and after me,

Daring enough to take to the sky.

Dad and Grandfather,

Charlie, and Joe, and Mack . . .

Hawaiian Skies


Return to Malibu, 1980s

Returning to Malibu, back to when my kids were small

I’m out with the horses  and I hear . . .

Looking up, I see . . . Circling Sandstone Peak

Charlie, Joe . . .  wait a minute  just two planes now.

Malibu's Mountains -- Boney Ridge

“Hey Charlie, Joe, how’s it going up there?”

I point. I wave. I cry. My kids, so little,

They don’t know  can’t know why?

Something must have happened to Mack!


Emotions rise within me. Memories of my flying days — of

Dad and Grandfather — come racing back . . .

“Is Mack OK? Is his family doing well?”

Tears well up in my eyes.


We saw Charlie and Joe fly over a few more times — but never again with Mack.

Then we moved from the mountains, closer to the beach.

And throughout the years I’ve wondered the fate of my

VariEze, ace flying friends . . .


Red Acrobatic Pland


Island of Oahu, 2010

Now, two decades later, I listen to the roar of an

Acrobatic aircraft, practicing stunts —

Engine cranking, climbing . . . then fading, falling, spinning,

Here over Hawaii’s Lani Kai Beach.


And I think of Charlie, and Joe, and good ‘ol Mack,

And I wonder — are they still flying?

Are they soaring like an Eagle

Over the mountains somewhere?

Up in the Air!

Or are they now with Dad,

And Grandfather,

Soaring above the Rainbow —

Smiling each time an airplane flies by.


Running outside, dropping

Everything they’re doing,

Waving their hands wildly —

Welcoming the latest pilot home?

Circular Rainbow –  known as a Glory – made by an airplane when the shadow hit a cloud flying en route Honolulu to Molokai 2014 :))

Circular Rainbow – known as a Glory – made by an airplane when the shadow hit a cloud flying en route Honolulu to Molokai 2014 :))


VariEze Aircraft, Camarillo


Birthday Flight, Camarillo Airport

Yes! I’ve decided, this has to be one of their unusual, VariEze planes.

All these years later. On my Birthday.

The Rainbow Circle has returned to my Life :))

Backyard Rainbow

Emotions rise. Again.

But this time, smiles replace tears.

Yes! I feel them!

Dad and Grandfather — Charlie, Joe and Mack — smiling down on my Happy Birthday, Camarillo-Malibu Mountains, helicopter flying endeavor.

Helicopter in flight

As we rise above the tarmac, amidst the roar of the whirling blades — I think I even hear Dad’s wonderful, heart-felt laugh!


To find out more about Dad and his up-beat Philosophy in Life, go to my post, You Can Do ANYTHING!

Birthday Flight


Like what you’ve read here? Visit Dawn’s sister blog: Soul Horse Ride

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Copyright 2010, 2015


Like what you’ve read here? Please visit Dawn’s sister blog: Soul Horse Ride.

19 thoughts on “Family of Flying — Charlie, Joe and Mack

    1. DawnSeeker Post author

      Best to you, JF!

      These days I seem to watch, and learn, as the blades of Life whirl overhead, around us — lifting us to new heights, blending our experiences of “then” with “now”, reminding us of the ever-present ephemeral, and the absence of what we refer to as “time”.

      I do my best to smooth out emotional wrinkles — replacing fear and angst with Universal Love. Sweet, indeed!

      Is this what happens after 50? Maybe I’m finally growing up! :))


  1. Orin Bakal-Molnar

    Really enjoyed this post. I was just in California exploring the coast north of Los Angeles with my dad after doing the safety course at the Robinson factory in Torrance. We drove through the Malibu mountains and saw horses and I imagined the people who might live there. Thanks for sharing your story. The history of flying in your family is amazing, I’m happy that you have kept it alive!


    1. DawnSeeker Post author

      This is too weird — I have been working on this post for several months, and just put it up. You just came through Malibu recently — and I work not only in Malibu, but on Oahu and Molokai. I fly there for two out of every six weeks — for the past twelve years — putting shoes on horses! How strange is that!!! :)) :)) And I think it’s great that you are keeping flying alive — it’s truly one of the most amazing feats available to us Earthlings.


      1. Orin Bakal-Molnar

        It’s funny the connections we can have to other people isn’t it? I like it because it makes me realize that I am probably connected to almost everyone one way or another…

        I saw the picture of the Hawaiian jet in the blog and wondered about the story there. Maybe I’ll bump into you over this way sometime, if things go as planned I should be here a bit longer.

        Keep writing and keep Little Dawn happy with those horses!


        1. DawnSeeker Post author

          :)) Yes, Little Dawn got a fantastic two hour full-speed endurance ride tonight — think off-road single-track motocross on horseback. Fantastic!

          I’m back working on Oahu for two weeks mid-April: Kailua, Waimanalo, North Shore. I’ve flown with Grant Lamb at Right Flight, Honolulu. Also spoken with Clint Churchill who does acrobatics there, and has a helicopter. Also flown in the original Hawaiian Airlines 1921 Bellanca :))

          The flight world is all connected, especially over there. How cool that you are learning to fly in the islands. Should prepare you well for anywhere!

          Where are you from on the mainland?


          1. Orin Bakal-Molnar

            Happy to hear you are out riding, sounds like a lot of fun. I rode a handful of times when I was a kid, always loved horses, maybe someday I’ll try again…

            I’ve been living in Colorado since ’96, so that’s pretty much home. I’ve also been traveling a lot in the last 10 or so years and haven’t had more than a storage unit, friends, and family back home for the majority of it. But I’m looking to change that in the next few years (finger’s crossed!).

            Flying and training out here has been a great experience. With a little luck I’ll be hired on as a CFI by the summer and spend another year or two here. I’m not very familiar with the Honolulu flight scene since I’m based over on the Big Island. I may end up working over at the Honolulu branch sometime though. I’ve flown there a little bit and I really enjoyed working in such a busy airspace. Kona is very, very mellow by comparison.

            Enjoy your time here on the islands!


  2. Dalo 2013

    The beauty of seeing something in the present that stops time and takes you back through such amazing memories. Dawn, your prose in writing such a deep history, from your children, through you, your father and then your grandfather ~ and all linked in with something so real and tangent in front of you… My guess is you enjoyed this helicopter ride like no other 🙂 Cheers to the happy days of past, present and future!


  3. Diana

    The Vari-Eze is ‘vintage’. Gah! I’m old. I’m sorry about your Dad. I didn’t know. Very sad. So sorry it was all sold. I bet my folks heard him play. They would go to Disneyland back when it was like $2 to get in just to hear Dixieland Jazz back in the 1960s.


    1. DawnSeeker Post author

      Yes — they heard him, for sure! Thinking back to those days, I smell popcorn and see little lights twinkling in the trees, and hear horns toot from the old-fashioned cars on Main Street . . .


  4. Pingback: Family of Flying — Charlie, Joe and Mack | Cobcatnipdew's Blog

  5. Edward Stewart

    You may remember that John Denver died after crashing into Monterey Bay in a Long-Eze, a variant of the Vari-Eze. I think that it was determined to be a fuel management problem and not a structural defect on the plane. I always wanted to fly one but never got the chance.

    Liked by 1 person


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